Lawmakers must not let nursing homes off the hook for COVID-19 cases and deaths in Kansas

AARP's Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard provides four-week snapshots of the virus’ infiltration into nursing homes and impact on nursing home residents and staff. (Screen capture by Kansas Reflector)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Maren Turner is state director for AARP Kansas.

While nursing home residents and staff are dying, the industry is lobbying for protection from COVID-19 related lawsuits.

More than 1,700 residents and staff of Kansas nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have died of COVID-19 — nearly half of all COVID-19 deaths in Kansas.

Across the United States, the nursing home death toll is more than 170,000 and rising — a national disgrace.

Now, the nursing home industry is asking Kansas for immunity from liability related to COVID-19: HB2126 would strip away the rights of residents and their families.

The latest release of AARP’s Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard depicts ongoing devastation from the COVID-19 crisis in Kansas. In the four-week period ending Jan. 17, more than 43% of all Kansas nursing homes reported residents with confirmed cases of coronavirus, and nearly 80% had a minimum of one staff member diagnosed.

The rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Kansas nursing homes increased exponentially throughout 2020. Sadly, by the end of the year, an average of 100 nursing home residents were dying of COVID-19 each week between late November and early January.

A recent Government Accountability Office report found that more than 80% of nursing homes were cited for infection prevention failures before the pandemic. It is outrageous that the majority of the nation’s nursing homes weren’t following basic infection control procedures — like washing hands in between patients — as a matter of course. Poor infection control in facilities filled with residents who have chronic conditions and compromised immune systems is a recipe for disaster.

Long-term care facilities must remain responsible when their wrongdoing threatens the health and lives of their residents and staff. Litigation is an option of last resort, and no family member who has lost a loved one due to neglect or abuse pursues this course of action lightly.

Our elected officials must not take away the rights of residents and their families to hold nursing facilities accountable. Elected officials in Kansas must step up now to protect our seniors and the people who care for them — not let nursing homes off the hook for abuse, neglect, and even death.

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